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Raunchy Canadian memoir like short-term fling

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THIS raunchy Canadian memoir, which the New York Times called a "smell-all," is like a short-term fling. It starts off passionately, laced with impressions of sex and scent, but soon becomes dull and uninspiring. Alas, there is no interest in pleasuring the reader. Just the writer.

"I am in Seville, standing under a bitter orange tree in full bloom in the arms of Rom°n, the Spanish boy who is not yet my lover," writes author Denyse Beaulieu. "I am in the pulsing, molten-gold heart of Seville, thrust into her fragrant flesh, and there is no need for Rom°n to take me to bed at dawn; he's already given me the night."

The Perfume Lover

A Personal History of Scent

By Denyse Beaulieu

Penguin Canada, 304 pages, $22

Beaulieu, 50, was born in Winnipeg, grew up in Montr©al, and has lived in Paris for most of her adult life. She is the author of The Sex Game Book: A Cultural History of Sexuality, and reviews perfumes for her blog, Grain de Musc.

In The Perfume Lover she chronicles the creation of a personalized perfume based on her recollection of a night of youthful passion.

As she recounts her experiences and affairs, one thing becomes clear. She has never been monogamous -- to men or to perfume.

"Some people have a signature fragrance that expresses their identity and signals their presence," she writes. "I'm not one of those people. I am a scent slut."

And while men may be attracted to Beaulieu, readers may not be so inclined. Her vague outline of her trysts is not relatable or particularly interesting. Apart from the Spanish boy, she mentions an ex-husband, a wealthy married man and an encounter with a delivery guy. Why? Only Beaulieu knows.

Her central theme of developing a perfume with renowned perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour is interwoven throughout, but their collaboration deserves more ink.

When Duchaufour heard about Beaulieu's lover in Seville and the sights, sounds and smells that accompanied the encounter, he thought developing a perfume capturing the excitement of that evening would be an intriguing project.

The process takes over a year, and 128 mods (versions) are created before they arrive on a scent that muse and maker are happy with. The perfume, marketed as Seville l'Aube (Seville at Dawn), was released by L'Artisan Parfumeur.

Beaulieu's fascination with scent is palpable. "Paris had taught me about perfume," she says. "But it was in Seville that I learned about scent in an intimate, carnal way, experiencing with my full body rather than from bottles."

Olfactory fetishes aside, she shines when detailing the history of perfume. If Catherine de' Medici (with perfumer Renato Bianco in tow) had not come to France in 1553 to marry future King Henri II, we learn, perfume might well have been Italian.

According to Beaulieu, the turning point for French perfumery came from the scent-crazed King Louis XIV because during his reign the industry acquired the prestige it still boasts today.

The first couturier to launch a perfume house was Paul Poire in 1911. Fashion icon Gabrielle Chanel followed suit in 1921 with the now iconic Chanel No. 5.

Industry tidbits aside, the memoir rankles because of Beaulieu's pretentious observations based on her privileged life in Paris (there is no sweet Canadian girl within), and the basic nonchalance of someone with no particular responsibilities other than self.

Deborah Bowers is a Winnipeg marketing and communications director.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 J7

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